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Homosexuals Can Change, Research Says
Back in 1973, Dr. Robert Spitzer persuaded the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. More than two decades later, the same Dr. Spitzer finds his new research out of step with the prevailing view of homosexuality that he helped create.
Back in 1973, Dr. Robert Spitzer persuaded the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder.
More than two decades later, the same Dr. Spitzer finds his new research out of step with the prevailing view of homosexuality that he helped create.
He says his five-year study of 200 people shows that homosexuals can change their sexual preference.
"I think I've always been somebody who likes to challenge prevailing orthodoxies," said Spitzer, chief of biometrics research and professor of psychiatry at New York's Columbia University. "There was an orthodoxy in 1973, and there is a recent orthodoxy in the mental-health profession which makes this kind of a taboo question to even ask."
Spitzer's study of 143 males and 57 females was presented May 9 at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting and since has been met with praise from conservative groups and criticism from homosexual activists. He will also present it to the Catholic Conference on Healing for the Homosexual next month at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons of the Catholic Medical Association, which in November released "Homosexuality and Hope" for Catholic physicians, educators, clergy, parents and mental health professionals, said he feels vindicated by the Spitzer study. "It's encouraging to see a man of science who is able to document what we are stating."
"Homosexuality and Hope" calls homosexuality a preventable and treatable condition and says it is not genetically determined and unchangeable. "Our statement says that there is no such thing as a homosexual identity. ... It is a state of emotional woundedness which can be healed," said Fitzgibbons, a Philadelphia psychiatrist who helped head the task force that produced the document.
The Catholic Medical Association statement, which supports Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and contrary to natural law (No. 2357 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church), says that with the help of grace, the sacraments, support from the community, and an experienced therapist, a determined individual should be able to achieve freedom from homosexuality.
The Catechism teaching concludes: "Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection" (No. 2359).
However, Drs. Michael Schroeder and Ariel Shidlo, psychologists who presented results of their five-year study on the effects of homosexual "conversion therapies" at the same American Psychiatrist Association meeting, said their findings differed considerably from Spitzer's.
They found that 178 of their 202 subjects failed in such therapies and that most reported suffering mental stress or emotional pain from the treatment.
Of the 24 who succeeded in making changes, Schroeder and Shidlo said six were what researchers called "heterosexual shifters," people who were able to shift from being attracted to the same gender to the opposite sex. The other 18, they said, continued to struggle with same-sex desires. "Some labeled themselves as heterosexual, eight or nine took no label at all, and many were asexual or celibate," Schroeder said.
Shidlo said the study found that most people felt they experienced success early on in their therapy, but failed later: "Some people that we spoke to who failed to change said that had we spoken to them at some point earlier in their journey, they would have told us that they succeeded."
Schroeder and Shidlo said a stronger study that would follow people from the start of therapy to the post-therapy period has yet to be done.
Spitzer agreed that further study is needed, but he said he likely will not be the person to do it.
He has received hate mail as a result of his findings and has been severely criticized by professional colleagues as well as homosexual leaders.
"My reputation in some circles is over," he said.
Although he has been embraced by religious conservatives because of his study, he said he does not necessarily share their views and refers to himself as a Jewish atheist.
He stands by his earlier efforts to declassify homosexuality as a psychological disorder. "I'm happy that I did it.
It's a complicated issue," he said, "but the homosexual community made great strides because of that change and I'm happy about that."
Spitzer said he remains a supporter of homosexual adoption and homosexuals serving openly in the military.
For now, though, he said, "I'm a temporary hero of the Christian right."
POWER TO CHANGE
The subjects in Spitzer's study maintained their shift toward a heterosexual identity for at least five years through exploring their formative experiences and identifying how those could have contributed to their sexual orientation.
The participants also cited same-sex mentoring relationships and behavioral and group therapy as helping them change. For most, religious faith also was a strong motivator.
Of the 200 people in the study, nearly 75% of the men and 50% of the women were married to partners of the opposite sex by the time Spitzer interviewed them.
Most subjects also reported feeling more masculine if they were males or feminine if they were females.
"Good heterosexual functioning" was achieved by 66% of the men and 44% of the women studied.
Spitzer concluded that some highly motivated people could make a substantial change in sexual orientation and achieve good heterosexual functioning, although he said that for a person to completely cease having homosexual attractions and fantasies is likely uncommon.
He said that while talking with people who were protesting the American Psychiatric Association's position statements on reorientation therapy he was moved by curiosity to investigate whether homosexuals could change their sexual orientation.
"When I spoke to individuals who claimed they had changed," he said, "I began to wonder if it was possible."
Jerry Armelli was one of those who eventually assured Spitzer that it was.
Armelli, director of Prodigal Ministries in Cincinnati and a participant in the Spitzer study, said he engaged in homosexual behavior for nearly 10 years before ceasing in 1984.
A small prayer group at a Catholic church helped him with the transition.
Said Armelli: "It really was that prayer group and their unconditional love, sharing God's truth with me, bringing order out of the confusion, providing strength for where I was weak, character development and healing from the past."
Seven years later, he said, he met the woman who would become his wife, and married her in 1994. They now have a 2-year-old daughter.
Armelli, whose group works with homosexuals to help them give up homosexual activity, said Spitzer's study has helped give a voice to those who have experienced change and want to encourage others.
Judy Roberts. "Homosexuals Can Change, Research Says." National Catholic Register. (May-June, 2001).
This article is reprinted with permission from National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.
Judy Roberts is a Register Correspondent.
Copyright © 2001 National Catholic Register